Today’s crowded marketplace finds consumers spoiled with choices and pressed for time. In our uber-connected world, new technologies deliver more media and brand marketing on more devices than ever before, providing limitless options. According to NPD, nearly half of those who described themselves as highly loyal to a brand were no longer loyal a year later.

Faced with this surplus of products and marketing, consumers are choosing to engage only with content and brands that are personally relevant to them, their purpose, and their passions. This makes building a brand that breaks through all the noise and connects with consumers more difficult than ever before. However, for those that get it right, there have never been so many ways to engage with consumers and scale a business. Technology has leveled the playing field between indie brands and big legacy brands.

At the end of the day, the success of a brand is dictated by winning at the point of purchase. Followers and likes are great, but they don’t pay the bills. Modern brands need to be built to feed the complex path-to-purchase ecosystem, fill the full funnel, gain the consumer’s attention, and ultimately convert into product sales.

With all that being said, branding hasn’t really changed much. A brand is not a logo and it is not an identity. A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what consumers say it is. A brand is still collectively what people say, feel, and think about your product, service, or company. What has changed is how our brand messages get delivered, the ability to control a brand, the amount of data at our disposal, and the attention span of the consumer. So how do you build a brand that breaks through the clutter, connects with consumers, and drives purchases?

ESTABLISH THE ROLE: Understanding and respecting the power of branding and the role of a brand in your overarching business strategy is crucial. The brand should be your North Star guiding business decisions and customer interactions. Product or service design and brand design must happen simultaneously, and every product and service decision needs to also be a brand decision. Creating a culture that values the importance of brand lays the foundation. A living brand is a pattern of behavior, not a stylistic veneer.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE: A strong brand is a collection of coherent, well-articulated ideas and experiences. You cannot be everything to everyone or constantly change your message to what you think people need or want to hear today, chasing short-term gains. If this is your strategy, you have a product or service, not a brand. Brands are built on focus and the commitment to a long-term view based on core principles that don’t change. From these principles you create an evolving collection of ideas and experiences over time that differentiate you from the competition. You must be able to clearly articulate the answers to these questions: Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter?

CREATE VALUE: A brand is not a product. Goods and services have become commodities. Consumers can buy whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, at whatever price they want. A brand’s success hinges upon the ability to provide clear value and experiences beyond the product. Consumers don’t care about your brand—they care about what you do for them. Sell something people actually want, create experiences, entertain them, show them that you care, and people will line up.

CONTENT IS KING: In today’s landscape, brands have become storytellers and publishers with the ability to communicate not only in words but also through images. A brand’s story or mission statement consistently and repetitively told won’t cut it. The architecture of a brand needs to support content creation that has depth and complexity. Identify the adjacencies to your brand that can provide context to your storytelling. Forget trying to control the message and embrace collaboration. Make sure your brand architecture accounts for content you don’t create and provides a platform that encourages fans to become content creators. Harnessing user-generated content (UGC) is a powerful tool. Consumers don’t trust brands, but they do trust their friends. Leveraging UGC allows your brand loyalists to speak on your behalf.

PUT THE CUSTOMER FIRST: Remember, in today’s marketplace the consumer is the boss. There’s absolutely nowhere for a brand to hide. Buyers are armed with a tremendous amount of information, high expectations, and social media. Be sure you build a great customer experience, deliver consistently on your promise, exceed their expectations, and earn their trust. If you do that, people will come back. Repeat sales are the ones that truly count. Slip up, they will move on. Either way, they are likely to tell others, and word of mouth is very powerful.

CREATE GUIDELINES: In today’s Insta-world, creating a visual impact across all mediums is crucial. Clearly articulated direction across logo use, voice, fonts, color palettes, and photography is essential. These creative assets will provide the backbone for the development of your marketing toolbox and content creation. The old paradigm controlled the look and feel of a brand. The new paradigm influences the character of a brand. However, guidelines are still important and provide the framework for creative exploration.

HAVE A PLAN: Embrace the complexity, dig in, and develop a plan, but remember people and businesses are nuanced and constantly evolving. A plan should provide discipline for decision-making but be flexible enough to allow for thoughtful evolution. The way and speed at which people discover, process, and share information has changed dramatically. A plan should control what is possible to control while creating room for agility, flexibility, and iteration. Remember, execution, not strategy, is where the rubber meets the road.

The M&A environment in the beauty space is a hotbed for startup indie brands. A common mistake among the startup set is to focus on the product or service first and worry about the brand later. Without the brand, however, what you’ll find is you’re left with sales tactics and discounts to lure customers in. It’s not a path to building a long-lasting sustainable business. In fact, building a strong well-articulated brand not only helps a company know who it is, what business it’s truly in, what it’s working towards (and how), it should also hold the entire team accountable to the brand’s values. When you build a strong brand, you create sustainable competitive advantage.

In the words of advertising legend Jim Mullen, “Of all the things that your company owns, brands are far and away the most important and the toughest. Founders die. Factories burn down. Machinery wears out. Inventories get depleted. Technology becomes obsolete. Brand loyalty is the only sound foundation on which business leaders can build enduring, profitable growth.”

Photo: Joel Filipe via Unsplash